Podcasting: Wayne’s World v.s. Corporate Media

My winner/loser scenario is a David and Goliath story, still in its early stages but picking up serious steam, embedded in a larger conflict between two colossal mediums. I am interested primarily in podcasts, but before digging into podcasts specifically we need to step back and see the larger picture, a face-off between two mediums, with terrestrial radio on one hand and streaming services, including streaming radio, on the other. 

The Big Picture

My winner/loser scenario is a David and Goliath story, still in its early stages but picking up
serious steam, embedded in a larger conflict between two colossal mediums. I am interested
primarily in podcasts, but before digging into podcasts specifically we need to step back and see
the larger picture, a face-off between two mediums, with terrestrial radio on one hand and
streaming services, including streaming radio, on the other.

Terrestrial radio is a perennial juggernaut that has weathered numerous death threats
over the last century, including the advent of television and the music video. With 89% of the
population listening at least once a week in 2019 (1), we can decidedly say that  radio is alive and
not evaporating anytime soon. However, that being said, ad spending on terrestrial radio in the
U.S. fell from $20.8 billion in 2006 to $17.6 billion last year(2); likewise, the percentage of weekly
listeners has been decreasing ever so slightly from 92% in 2009 to 89% in 2019(3). Meanwhile,
the percentage of people in the U.S. listening to streaming content has blossomed from 12% in
2007 to 60% in 2019(4), with younger demographics, ages 16-34, spending significantly more
time listening to music on streaming services than on terrestrial radio(5).

As for nonmusical content, monthly podcast listenership in 2018 was estimated at 73
million, or 26% of U.S. listenership, accounting for roughly 40% of online audio overall(6). That
number is expected to nearly double by 2022, increasing to 132 million(7), with podcast
advertising revenues breaking $1 billion in 2021(8). While I could not find much data for terrestrial
talk radio in terms of advertising revenue, the terrestrial “Talk” format was down by 12.5% in
terms of average number of listeners in 2018(9). As online audio content continues its ascent with
podcasts lending serious momentum to the movement, who are the real winners and losers?


Wayne’s World v.s. Corporate Media

Podcasts as a medium were brought into the world by Apple in 2005 under visionary CEO Steve
Jobs. At the time, the concept was so new that Jobs struggled to describe it,

“It’s sort of like TiVo for radio, for your iPod,” he said. “It’s not just the ‘Wayne’s World’ of
radio, but real radio is jumping onto this.”(10)

Indeed real radio is finally jumping onto it, and in a big way; however, some of the
biggest players have paid a hefty price in their effort to adapt. America’s two largest radio
companies, iHeart Media and Cumulus Media, both recently filed for bankruptcy due to
overreaching acquisitions(11). While both bankruptcies are somewhat self-inflicted and influenced
by the 2008 market crash, both companies cite difficulties imposed by new forms of streaming
audio competition(12). Indeed, no small part of both companies’ acquisitional burdens were
accumulated in an effort to keep up with emerging formats, and this year both companies
continue to invest in podcasting(13). Time will tell if they are too big to fail (it seems like
iHeartMedia is bouncing back as it prepares for an IPO). Likewise, time will tell whether there
will always be a space for the little guy or if he will be lost in a deluge of premium content from
the big conglomerates. But for now, there is still a case to be made that Wayne’s World is
winning, albeit in a guerilla fashion, forcing the bigger players to invest billions in an effort to
keep pace.

With low barrier to entry, streaming services have always been a space open to the little
guy, a largely unregulated space that allows room for the weird, thereby becoming a hotbed for
the innovative and groundbreaking. While radio listeners have access to a limited range of
regulated content at specific times in specific places, podcasts listeners can choose from a
practically infinite variety of subjects at anytime, anywhere they have access to data. Indeed,
podcasts offer not just a variety of subject matter but also a variety of formats and experiences
that are only beginning to be explored from games, to driving tours, to how-to’s, to micro “shorts”
like 5 minute news updates, the possibilities abound.

As bigger players move into the podcasting space, they would do well to take cues from
the successes of their idiosyncratic precursors, taking advantage of opportunities for innovation
and not trying to duplicate the experience of terrestrial radio in a different space. This holds true
not only for producing content but also for monetizing that content. While podcasting has 40% of
the listenership of online audio overall, it brings in less than 15% of ad revenue(14). Podcasts
have traditionally sought alternative means of funding in crowdsourcing and subscriptions. It will
be interesting to see if the bigger players can adapt or whether they will stick to their traditional
tactics which may or may not be effective in this space.

1 PEW Research Center, “Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet”, 2019,
www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/audio-and-podcasting, Accessed September 2019.
2Pollack, Juddan, “Radio’s Health Is Better Than You Think, But What’s The Long-Term Prognosis?”, 2018,
https://adage.com/article/media/mixed-signals-radio-s-health/313110, Accessed September 2019.
3 PEW Research Center, “Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet”, 2019.
4 Ibid.
5 Music Business Association. (2018). Share of time spent listening to music via selected sources in the United States
as of July 2018, by age group . Statista . Statista Inc.. Accessed: September 24, 2019.
6 Edison Research’s Infinite Dial,
7Activate. (2018). Number of podcast listeners in the United States from 2014 to 2022 (in millions) . Statista . Statista
Inc. Accessed: September 24, 2019.
https://www-statista-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/statistics/786826/podcast-listeners-in-the-us /
8“FY 2018 Podcast Ad Revenue Study: A Detailed Analysis of the US Podcast Advertising Industry”, prepared by
pWc, June 2019, https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Full-Year-2018-IABPodcast-
Ad-Rev-Study_5.29.19_vFinal.pdf Accessed: September 24, 2019.
9 Triton Digital. (2019). Change in the average number of radio listeners in the United States in December 2018, by
format . Statista . Statista Inc.. Accessed: September 24, 2019.
10“Herrman, John, “Podcasts Surge, but Producers Fear Apple Isn’t Listening”, The New York Times , May 7, 2016,
www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/business/media/podcasts-surge-apple.html, Accessed: September 24, 2019.
11MacIntyre, Hugh, “Bankruptcy Has Come To Both Of America’s Largest Radio Companies”, Forbes , March 8, 2018,
#67ccc21872e8, Accessed: September 24, 2019.
12Ibid .
13“Wondery Creates Podcast-Radio Alliance With Cumulus Media”, Inside Radio, May 3, 2019,
11e9-96e0-b755cbc05aee.html, Accessed: September 24, 2019.14Rosenblatt, Bill, “New Study Shows Limits Of Ad Revenue For Podcasts ”, Forbes , June 9, 2019,
slowing-down/#7fa469783f94, Accessed: September 24, 2019.


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4 thoughts on “Podcasting: Wayne’s World v.s. Corporate Media

  1. Thanks for sharing! This is incredibly interesting. I once heard (from a podcast, of course) that the brain is actually more engaged when it consumes media just through audio, rather than through audio + visual. This is obviously great news for advertisers, and creates a massive opportunity to engage with its audience. To your point, there are very low barriers to entry. Should the next move for the larger players then be to create leaner operations to compete, or to outsource some of their content and instead license the brand?

  2. Interesting summary on the state of podcast and where it is headed. Being heavily weighted towards music streaming, I have played podcasts very few times but suddenly it is starting to grow on me asan alternative to reading news or opinion articles. Can’t help noticing there podcasts are hosted in multiple streaming platforms, from Spotify, to Soundcloud, iTunes, etc. Do you have a view on which platform may be able to better capitalize with the growth in podcast streaming? SoundCloud is easier to access while Spotify has a broader reach. Maybe embedding features are key for bloggers and news websites to showcase their podcasts. Not sure what are the most used platforms so far. Appreciate your thoughts!

  3. I really enjoyed this most not only because it is a great introduction into podcasting but also because I’m actually working on a podcasting project in another class of mine! To build off of Short Apple’s comments, I wonder who is best positioned in the competitive landscape to take on podcasts and why? One could argue Spotify who is a leader in music and recently acquired a couple startups in the space. On the other hand, Apple has its native podcast app and a platform in iTunes, and most importantly the wallet to acquire or license original content. To me it comes down to is there enough of a market opportunity to move the needle in revenue for a large firm like Apple. We are already seeing that Netflix is feeling the squeeze from Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, and Apple TV. Could the small players really keep up if firms like these with existing capabilities, relationships, and intellectual properties decide to really enter the podcast market?

  4. Very interesting topic Jackson, thank you for sharing! Your post made me realize the great potential of podcasts in infiltrating every day’s life routine so conveniently, especially because being able to choose them according to their length allows you to match them to your tasks, such as walking your dog or cooking diner. When big entertainment companies invest more and more in costly show production, podcast are, as you mentioned, a lot cheaper and have an obvious but unneglectable distinctive strength: they don’t require visual supports so they are great for multitasking and convenient to busy people who still wants their daily dose of entertainment. Maybe that could also explain how radio survived as well? I wonder if the demographic segments of podcast users in general reflects a majority of young adult and adult crowd in contrast to teenagers and whether it impacts the kind of podcast content available.

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